The Papal Sendoff! Pope Francis Heads to Cuba Ahead of U.S. Visit

Pope Francis began his longest papal trip on Saturday, disembarking from Rome's Fiumicino Airport for Havana, Cuba

Photo: Riccardo De Luca/AP

Pope Francis began his longest papal trip on Saturday, boarding a plane from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport for Havana, Cuba.

The Pope will arrive in the Cuban capital on Saturday night for the first leg of his to the Americas which will include stops in three U.S. cities: Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, as detailed in PEOPLE’s current cover story.

During his stay in the Caribbean island, the Pope will host mass in the famous Plaza de la Revoluci n on Sunday morning, and then will meet with President Raul Castro. He is also expected to meet with former leader Fidel Castro, according to TIME.

Pope Francis will also meet with priests and seminarians, and then travel to Santiago de Cuba and greet the bishops.

Pope Francis, 78, is only the third pontiff to ever visit the country. The last pope to travel to Cuba during his papacy was Benedict XVI in 2012, according to TIME.

The Pope is said to be partly responsible for President Obama‘s 2014 decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, according to CNN. Both Castro and POTUS thanked Pope Francis for pushing them to end the decades-long hostile relationship between American and the island nation.

The Pope’s first-ever trip to the United States, his 10th overseas trip during his papacy, begins on Sept. 22 in the nation’s capital.

More than 2 million fans are expected to flock to his appearances over the six day visit.

The popular Argentinian, who’s known for his progressive views, spoke about his growing fame with Catholics and non-Catholics, alike, earlier this week during a Portugal radio show.

“Jesus also, for a certain time, was very popular, and look at how that turned out,” he told Radio Renascenca. “So nobody has their happiness guaranteed in this world.”

For more on Pope Francis’ private world and visit to America, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE

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